Stop Copying Sensei!


Noguchi sensei was very enthusiast yesterday. We covered the Tonsō no kata; the first level of Kukishin; a few sword techniques, and some hanbō jutsu. That was intense!

Noguchi sensei’s taijutsu is getting more destructured every time I train with him. As often, it is difficult to see the basics from the variations. I have attended his classes for 28 years now, and I am still amazed by his creativity.

Each time I train the Ryū with him, I have the feeling that I am studying new techniques. That is impressive and shows me the distance between his level and mine.

In the Mutō Dori part of the Tonsō no kata (waza 4, 5, and 6), we control the Uke’s sword. Noguchi sensei made a fascinating point. Uke attacks with Tsuki and Tori dodges the attack from the right. Dodging is Gomakasu. (1)

He said that holding the blade the way Hatsumi Sensei does, is not of our level. First, we have to learn how to avoid the stab. Catching and controlling the blade will come later

Sōke’s level is way above ours. He shows what is happening when you reach his degree of mastership. He does that so that we know where we are heading. But if we try to mimic his movements, we are dead.

For the last few days here, I have been exchanging a lot with my friend Daniel about this. We have to train at our level. Copying Sensei is not what we need, we need to better our sabaki first.

Too often, young black belts try to reproduce Hatsumi Sensei’s movements. They cannot do it because they don’t have acquired the basics. Footwork is key to our survival, and as long as we don’t have a perfect sabaki, and perfect timing, we cannot do what Sōke does.

Many visitors in Japan try to teach what they train here when they come back to their students. This is wrong in many aspects.

They “play Grandmaster” without the proper knowledge.
They do not teach their students.
They put their students’ lives at risk.

As teachers, we have a responsibility of transmitting what we see in Japan. But we have to do it in a way so that our students can develop their skills. If we keep imitating Sōke, we don’t pass on any new knowledge. This is not teaching, this is cheating (the other meaning of gomakasu). (1)

Teaching is Shugyō in Japanese. (2) And the essence of education is to instruct. You don’t need to look good, you have to be. It is not about showing off, some teachers should reflect on that.

If you lure your students into a fake sense of efficiency, you deceive them. You are Shūgyotō, attracting fish using lights. (3)

A fake teacher can cause the death of his students.
Be a true shugyōsha, not a shūgyotōsha!

1 誤魔化す, gomakasu: to dodge; to deceive; to falsify; to misrepresent; to cheat; to swindle. It is interesting to see that to dodge also has the meaning of misleading.
2 授業, shugyō: lesson; class work; teaching; instruction
3 集魚灯, shūgyotō: fish-luring lights


Control With Tō Toku


Precise footwork is what defines better the taijutsu of Nagato Sensei. We had a long session of Taijutsu where we “wrapped” Uke, taking his balance in many directions. François, a newly promoted Shidōshi had a long flying and crashing meeting on that day.

Nagato sensei was controlling Uke with his elbow, as usual. But he was also using his back a lot. By turning inside the attacker, Nagato sensei was taking the distance to lock Uke.

Hatsumi sensei wants us to “control” the attacker and space during the fight. This was a fantastic demonstration on how to do that. The techniques unfolding one after another, it seemed that Nagato sensei was a leaf in the wind. When you know his body shape, it is interesting. James Garcia recently wrote: “someone commented on how muscular Nagato was. He said, “yes, but with Taijutsu, you don’t need muscles.” There was no strength, only footwork.

During the break, he spokes of his relationship with Sōke. He said he was following him like the bug holding the tail of a horse and moving with him. Applied to his taijutsu, it was the same. The attacker was the horse, Nagato sensei, the bug. And whatever the opponent was doing, the control was total.

At the end of the class, Nagato did some hanbō jutsu. On a fist attack, Nagato sensei put the weapon vertical to the outside of the arm, protecting himself. It was like a high tate no kamae. (1)

This point of contact was the fulcrum. From there, he would counter attack, moving from the outside of the first to the outside in a sort of tsuke iri. (2)

That was a simple and efficient movement in one flow. What amazed me was that with this simple action, Nagato sensei was taking advantage of every opening created by Uke.

He insisted on the importance of shielding your body behind the hanbō with Tō Toku no kamae. (3) Hatsumi sensei said many times this year that there is no attack. You do not fight back, tatakai wa Janai. (4) You do not leave any suki available to the opponent. (5)

Staying out of reach is how you can control Uke’s and turn his actions to your benefit. Remember Tō Toku, it is a vital part of taijutsu.

1 縦, tate: vertical; height
2 付け入る, tsukeiri: to take advantage (of somebody’s weaknesses, carelessness, etc.); to impose on
3 匿, Toku: shelter; shield; hide
4 戦い じゃない, tatakai Janai: there is no battle; no fight; no struggle; no conflict
5 隙, suki: gap; space; break; chink (in one’s armor, armor); chance; opportunity; weak spot; breach

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